Maestro Reconsidered

Baroque Italy's Luca Giordano

For many years the art of Baroque Italy was perceived as over-theatrical, gloomy, and even freakish. It couldn't hold its own with the other great European styles in the popular imagination. In the past few decades, though, Artemisia Gentileschi, Guido Reni, and other Baroque painters have been reevaluated, and now it's Luca Giordano's turn. Giordano (1634-1705) was one of the authentic geniuses of his era, as is evident in his recently cleaned and wonderfully luminous frescoed ceiling in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, in Florence. On November 4, a gigantic Giordano exhibition comes from Naples to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (through January 20).

What are we to make of this virtuosic chameleon? Known as Luca Fa Presto (Speedy Luca), Giordano loved to paint in other artists' styles, stealing from everybody he admired. Working on a huge scale, he set up shop everywhere that counted: in his hometown of Naples, in Rome, in Florence, and in Madrid, where he stayed for about ten years. Sometimes flippant or leaden, he can also be deeply moving, as in his shadowy metaphysical portraits, his opalescent nudes, and such religious masterpieces as St. John the Baptist Preaching, of 1685. This is a show art lovers will want to see several times.